The moonflower plant is a favorite summer flower |

The moonflower plant is a favorite summer flower

We have a volunteer moonflower plant that I’ve been watching all summer, and now it’s in bloom. In the spring this attractive plant came up through a crack in the cement. I knew it was not one of the common weeds we have to pull from the cracks, so I let it go. Early on, the leaves looked familiar to me and I guessed that it might be a moonflower plant, though I have no idea how a seed may have fallen into that crack.

Now it’s full-grown and taking over half of our back step as well as pushing through the gas grill cart we keep there. A couple of weeks ago I was delighted when one bud came into full bloom. Now it has a profusion of blossoms. Each one lasts only a day, but others take its place. The large white bell-shaped flowers come into bloom at night (thus the name moonflower) but they remain long enough after sunrise to enjoy for a while.

My love of moonflowers dates back to childhood days when I would stay at Grandma and Grandpa Cain’s home in Cedar Rapids for a week each summer. Grandma had flowers in her garden that we didn’t have at home. She had four o-clocks, snapdragons and petunias, whereas my mother planted mostly zinnias and marigolds. But the most wonderful of all were these gorgeous white moonflowers. Grandma would take us out to her garden after dark to enjoy them. They have a heady fragrance that you don’t forget, and I think of Grandma when I see and smell them now.

Eventually my mother got seeds from Grandma and we had moonflowers at home in one corner of the fenced-in yard. My sisters and I reveled in the beauty of them.

I do love all the old-fashioned flowers: petunias, pansies, snapdragons, daisies, sweet peas and more. Each one has its own appeal; for instance take the common petunia. Just as the sweet fragrance of the wild rose far surpasses that of its tea rose cousins, so does the smell of the simple original petunia over the beautiful hybrids of all colors. In my own flower beds the red, dark purple, burgundy, hot pink and striped petunias I set out shed their seeds, and the next year they come up in the faded lavender and pink hues of their ancestors. I don’t pull them out. These throwbacks have the most wonderful spicy fragrance, completely missing in the hybrids. It must be what draws the hummingbird moths that flit over the flowers in the evening.

Zinnias have always been a part of my life as well, and I save the seeds from mine. The once-lowly zinnia has been bred into large double specimens in a range of vivid colors. While I admire these, the seeds I sow from my own plants have reverted back to the original flowers. Most are plain single-tiered flowers, many of which have a raised seed head in the middle with a circle of tiny flowerets like a tiara springing from it. I can always buy the spectacular hybrid zinnias if I choose to, but I love the simple old-fashioned ones the best.

And so, in a way, our backdoor moonflower plant serves as a representative of all the old summer flowers I’ve loved all my life.

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